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Introduction

This guidance has been developed by the ARB’s Professional Standards department to summarise the sanctions that can be imposed by a Professional Conduct Committee (PCC). It outlines the purpose of sanctions and the factors to be considered. The Sanctions Guidance is intended to assist the parties, the public and architects’ understanding of the PCC’s decision making process.

Sanctions are applicable in cases where an architect is found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct and/or serious professional incompetence. These are also applicable when an architect is convicted of a criminal offence which has material relevance to their fitness to practise.

The PCC may rely on this document for guidance and consistency, but it is not intended in any way to fetter the discretion of the Committee when deciding what if any sanction to impose. Each case will turn on its own facts and PCC members are expected to exercise their own judgment in making decisions.

This document will be used by the PCC from January 2020.

The purpose of sanctions

The primary purpose of sanctions is to protect members of the public, to maintain the integrity of the profession, and to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and competence. Sanctions are not imposed to punish architects but they may have a punitive effect.

Sanctions

If an architect is found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct, serious professional conduct or convicted of a relevant criminal offence, the PCC must decide what (if any) sanction should be imposed. Under the Architects Act 1997 (the Act) the sanctions available to the Committee are:

  • Reprimand
  • Penalty order (up to £2500 per charge, with a maximum of 2 charges)
  • Suspension (for a maximum of two years)
  • Erasure

The Act does not require the PCC to impose a sanction in every case where a guilty finding is reached, so the PCC may choose to make no disciplinary order.

The PCC’s approach

In making a decision the PCC will consider the seriousness of the misconduct and, from that, determine a fair and proportionate sanction.

The case of Raschid v General Medical Council [2006] EWHC 886 (Admin) (per Collins J) sets out the approach to be taken when imposing sanctions,

“It is necessary for a Panel, when considering the appropriate sanction, to work from the bottom up, if I may put it that way, that is to say to consider the least penalty and to ask itself whether that is sufficient, and, if not, then to go to the next one, and so on. Thus they go from taking no action and merely recording a serious professional misconduct finding through a reprimand, the imposition of conditions, suspension, and the final sanction of erasure.”

The court further elaborated on the approach to sanctions in Fuglers & Ors v Solicitors Regulation Authority [2014] EWHC 179 (per Popplewell J) and stated as follows,

There are three stages to the approach… The first stage is to assess the seriousness of the misconduct. The second stage is to keep in mind the purpose for which sanctions are imposed by such a tribunal. The third stage is to choose the sanction which most appropriately fulfils that purpose for the seriousness of the conduct in question.”

Human Rights, Equality, Diversity Inclusion

The PCC is a “public authority” for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998 (the HRA), and it seeks to uphold and promote the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights in accordance with the HRA. In deciding what sanction to impose, the PCC should have regard to the principle of proportionality, weighing the interests of the public with those of the architect. The interference with the architect’s right to practise whilst using the title “architect” must be no more than necessary to achieve the PCC’s purpose in imposing sanctions. Reasons should be given for the sanction imposed, and the decision should be pronounced publicly (apart from cases where there are exceptional circumstances).

The PCC is aware of and committed to the promotion of equality, diversity and inclusion in carrying out all its functions. It aims to ensure that its processes and procedures are fair, objective and transparent and free from unlawful discrimination. Promoting equality is also a requirement of equality legislation such as the Equality Act 2010. PCC members and ARB staff are expected to adhere to the spirit and letter of this legislation.

Impose no sanction

The PCC may conclude, having had regard to all the circumstances that the level of seriousness of the architect’s conduct or competence is so low that it would be unfair or disproportionate to impose a sanction. In these circumstances the Committee may decide not to impose a sanction.

Reprimands

Where the PCC decides that it is appropriate to impose a sanction in relation to a guilty finding, a reprimand is the least severe sanction that can be applied. It may be used in relation to offences which fall at the lower end of the scale of seriousness, and where it would be appropriate to mark the conduct or competence of an architect as being unacceptable.

This sanction may be considered where the following factors are present (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Evidence that the conduct or competence has not seriously affected clients/the public
  • Insight into failings
  • Genuine expression of regret
  • Corrective steps taken
  • Likelihood of future misconduct of a similar nature or any misconduct is very low
  • Previous good disciplinary history

A reprimand will remain permanently on an architect’s record and be taken into account in any future disciplinary proceedings, but will only be published on the ARB website for one year after the date of sanction.

Penalty orders

Penalty orders are fines of up to level 4 on the standard scale of fines for summary offences, currently set at £2,500 and this is payable to HM Treasury. Only one penalty order can be issued per charge, and under the Act only two charges can be brought (unacceptable professional conduct and/or serious professional incompetence).

This sanction may be considered where the following factors are present (this list is not exhaustive):

  • The offence is too serious to warrant a reprimand
  • Limited or lack of remorse
  • The architect has benefitted financially from the offence
  • The financial resources of the individual architect and/or his practice

The Committee will specify the period within which the sum must be paid. Where an architect fails to satisfy the order, a suspension or erasure order may be substituted instead. A penalty order is publicised for two years after the date of sanction.

Suspension orders

The PCC may impose a suspension order for a maximum period of two years and the architect is automatically reinstated to the Register at the end of the suspension period. An architect who is suspended from the Register cannot use the title “architect” in business or practice for the duration of the suspension.

This sanction may be considered where the following factors are present (this list is not exhaustive):

  • An offence so serious that a reprimand or penalty order would be insufficient either to protect the public or the reputation of the profession
  • Behaviour that is not necessarily incompatible with continuing to be an architect
  • There is no evidence of entrenched integrity issues
  • Lack of sufficient insight is such as to call into question the continued ability to practise appropriately
  • The PCC is satisfied that the behaviour is unlikely to be repeated
  • Conduct capable of being rectified
  • Non-payment of a previously imposed penalty order.

A suspension order is publicised for the duration of the suspension and two years after its expiry period /the date of reinstatement.

Erasure orders

An erasure order may be imposed by the PCC for those offences where:

–          the seriousness of the misconduct is at the highest level, such that a lesser sanction is inappropriate; and
–          the protection of the public and/or reputation of the profession requires it.

It is open to an architect to apply to re-join the Register after two years have passed following an erasure order, and that application will be considered by the Board. However the Committee may recommend a minimum period of time before such an application should be considered.

This sanction may be considered where the following factors are present (this list is not exhaustive):

  • A serious criminal offence
  • Behaviour that is fundamentally incompatible with continuing to be an architect
  • The PCC lacking confidence that a repeat offence will not occur
  • Dishonesty or a severe lack of integrity
  • A persistent lack of insight into the seriousness of actions or consequences
  • Non-payment of a previously imposed penalty order

Any individual erased from the Register is not permitted to use the title “architect” in business or practice [nor any reference to membership or fellowship of RIBA]. An erasure order is publicised for a period of five years after the date of sanction.

Aggravating factors

The PCC shall take into consideration any aggravating factors on the part of the architect and their conduct.

Factors that aggravate the seriousness of the architect’s conduct and/or actions include (but are not limited to):

  • Dishonesty, where alleged and proved
  • Misconduct involving the commission of a criminal offence
  • Conduct or action which was deliberate and/or repeated
  • Pattern of poor conduct/competence
  • Misconduct continuing over a period of time
  • Taking advantage of a vulnerable person
  • Concealment of wrongdoing
  • Refusal or inability to acknowledge failings
  • Substantial loss or impact to clients/others
  • Previous disciplinary matters before the PCC where allegations were found to be proved
  • Failure to engage with the disciplinary process constructively

Mitigating factors

The PCC shall have due regard to any evidence presented in mitigation by or on behalf of the architect.

Factors which may mitigate the harm or seriousness of the conduct and/or action include (but are not limited to):

  • Whether the respondent voluntarily notified the regulator of the facts and circumstances giving rise to misconduct
  • The misconduct or behaviour is either a single episode, or one of very brief duration in a previously unblemished career
  • Genuine insight and/or remorse for their behaviour
  • Open and frank admissions at an early stage
  • Evidence of remedial action taken to prevent offence reoccurring
  • Limited or no damage to the client/others
  • Acted under duress or deception from other party (including client)

These factors are not determinative of the seriousness of the conduct and/or competence itself. They are there to assist considerations of fairness and proportionality when determining the appropriate sanction.

Also, testimonials and references should be weighed appropriately against the nature of the offence, and the Committee will give due consideration to the availability of references.

Criminal convictions

“The reputation of the profession is more important than the fortunes of any individual member.”

(Bingham L.R) Bolton v Law Society [1994] 1 WLR 512

Architects will be referred to the PCC when they have been convicted of a criminal offence or received a caution that is relevant to their fitness to practise as an architect. If the Committee receives a signed certificate of a conviction or determination, from a criminal court in the United Kingdom or a foreign court for an offence, which, if committed in England and Wales, would constitute a criminal offence, it must accept the certificate as conclusive evidence that the offence was committed, or that the facts are as found by the determination.

In these instances the architect can make submissions as to why no further action or a more lenient sanction should be made by the PCC.

The purpose of a hearing in relation to a conviction is not to punish the architect a second time for the same offence, but to protect the public and maintain the collective reputation and integrity of the profession.

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